Governor can’t precipitate govt fall, observes SC on Maharashtra crisis

The top court asserted that a governor of a state cannot lend his office to effectuate a particular result while hearing on the events that unfolded during the 2022 Maharashtra political crisis.
(from L) Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, and former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. (File Photos | PTI)
(from L) Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, and former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. (File Photos | PTI)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the Maharashtra governor’s role in directing the then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to take a trust vote following a rebellion by the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena, saying it had precipitated the situation. 

Orally observing it would be a sad spectacle for democracy, Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said, “The only thing is that a resolution of 34 MLAs which said that there was widespread discontent among the party cadres and legislators... Is this sufficient ground to call a trust vote?”

The governor, he said, cannot enter a domain that would precipitate the matter. “People will start ditching the ruling party and governors being willing allies would end up toppling the ruling party. This will be a sad spectacle for democracy.” 

Trust vote, he said, is to establish who is the leader of the House and not who is the leader of a party. Referring to allegations that the rebel MLAs were facing threats to their life and property, the CJI said the process is to lodge FIRs, not bring down a government.

Pointing out that there were no ideological differences between the factions for three years, the CJI said, “They broke bread for three years. They broke bread with Congress and NCP for three years. What happened overnight after three years of happy marriage?”

The bench made the observations after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the then governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, said there were various materials before the governor, including a letter signed by 34 Shiv Sena MLAs and a letter from Independent lawmakers withdrawing support to the Uddhav Thackeray government, which prompted him to order a trust vote.

The CJI said the governor could not assume to himself judicial power and come to the conclusion that the 34 MLAs would have to be excluded from consideration because they had incurred disqualification under the tenth schedule. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Thackeray faction, said: “We’re back to ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’.”

Use powers judiciously, says CJI 

“The governor must be conscious of the fact that his calling for a trust vote may itself be a circumstance which may lead to the toppling of a government... A governor may actually precipitate the falling of government. That is very, very serious for democracy... Governors must exercise these powers with the greatest circumspection,” the CJI remarked.

A political crisis erupted in Maharashtra after an open revolt in the Shiv Sena, and on June 29, 2022, the apex court had refused to stay the Maharashtra governor's direction to the 31-month-old MVA government to take a floor test in the assembly to prove its majority.

B S Koshyari, who was then the governor of Maharashtra, had asked Thackeray to face a floor test to prove his majority. Thackeray, however, resigned in the face of imminent defeat, paving the way for the appointment of Shinde as the new chief minister.

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